Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Funeral Director!

My sister married Bobby and he became a funeral director. They divorced many years ago but for over twenty plus years he and I, mostly joking, went at it over the funeral business. When we would visit them he would show me around the funeral home and to tell the truth it’s a pretty fascinating place. Some folks would rather not ever think about it but the last time I checked the death rate was 100% for every person, eventually. Until Jesus comes back and interrupts this established statistic, it will continue.

His boys grew up running in and out of the casket room. Sometimes they would jump up and lay down in one of the displays. Talk about morbid! But I was forever and a day kidding Bobby about the cost and the way services were sold and all the hoopla that goes on at a time when families are at their weakest and most vulnerable. Of course he would always tell me about closure and the history and the value of saying goodbye and all of that Egyptian embalming and blah, blah, blah. I always kidded him about his handshake since it seemed to me when he got hold of my hand by practice and default he went into his funeral director sad squeeze mode and was always trying to comfort me. We had lots of laughs.

I always wanted him to show me the cheapest box they had. It was one kept out of sight, essentially a cardboard box with some felt on it, reserved for those buried by the state or the poorest in the community. He would get hostile when I told him that was exactly the box I wanted along with one of my favorite quilts. It was all in fun but we both knew we had strong feelings about all of this.

Now Bobby could tell some stories. Like the one he told about his first time to go fetch a body by himself. He had to travel over 200 miles and he had never done this duty by himself and on his way back in the middle of the night the body in the back of the hearse began to make noises. To say the least he was very unnerved. He had bad things happen at funerals and people who showed up drunk and many crazy situations that comes with being involved in this type of work.

One day we were visiting them on a weekend. He asked if I wanted to go with him Saturday morning to remove a casket from an above ground mausoleum to relocate it to a regular grave. There had been some type of family squabble and those who won wanted their loved one in the ground, dust to dust, and all of that. Of course I wanted to see this. We arrived at the cemetery and the workers were already chipping away at the face plate on the crypt.

Once they got the marble plate removed I could see the bronze casket inside. Since the plate had been cemented in there was quite a lot of residue and it appeared that the casket had been tightly squeezed into the space. They used hammers and chisels for some time but were making very little progress. Finally, one of the workers asked Bobby if he thought they might tie a rope to their pickup truck and attach it to the casket to see if they could ease it out. He agreed since he did not want to be tied up on this all day. They connected the rope and began to try to move the casket out of its resting place. It was not cooperating so they pulled harder. It finally began to lurch forward a little but was not making much progress. The driver decided perhaps they could jerk it a little and it would move. They did and it did but not without messing up the beautiful handles on the casket and scrapping it up pretty badly. Once loaded on the pickup the loved one was driven across the cemetery and let down into the freshly dug grave.

On the way home I explained to Bobby how this experience was in essence the truth behind it all. There you had your $5,000 box being jerked and towed by a pick-up truck. No fancy sermons, no sad music, just a bunch of huffing and puffing workers trying to get it done. He disagreed of course but it was what it was. I thought as we were leaving, “What a ride that old dude got today!” More later……………..

Monday, July 30, 2007

Time Well Spent!

This past Saturday I made a turn around trip to visit Mom and Dad over in Louisiana. Dad’s birthday is coming up this next Wednesday and I always try to go and spend the day when it is a special time for them. It is a 400 mile round trip and it can be tiring but in the grand scheme of things it’s not really that big of a deal. I’ve been doing this for many years now and it is something I look forward to. They always enjoy me coming but hate that I go to the trouble and hate that it’s a long drive but they feel honored that I would do it. Good. Because that is exactly how I want them to feel. Honored. It’s as simple as that!

It is my privilege to give up a few hours of my time in order to make these very special people feel honored. We’ve lived here in the big city metro area for nearly forty years. They’ve continued to live in that small town area for the same number of years, therefore, it is always a good day when I can go and spend time with them. They have been very blessed by God and really have need of nothing as far as material things are concerned. We give them gifts but that’s simply to recognize the special occasion, it is not to provide them with something they really need.

This is why I came up with the idea many years ago about giving up something more than a few bucks for a tool or a jacket or a shirt, a plant, or some other nick knack given along with a nice greeting card. These are all appropriate but my thought was how about giving up some of my time to show them how thankful I am for them, and how blessed I am to have them in my life? Yes, that’s right, it’s premeditated and intentional. I typically get there at breakfast time and they always have a feast ready. We pray together, eat together, remember old times together, talk about family, solve world issues, deal with politics, and then I leave and come back home. Often they travel a short ways with me to a cafe for a final afternoon meal before I leave. More praying, eating, and fellowshipping, and then I am on my way.

A great preacher and visionary mission builder, the late Dr. C. H. McBryde, once said this about prioritizing our time as it relates to doing those things that matter most, he said, “When you think about it sleep is mostly habit and you easily give it up whenever it is something you really want to do”. Dr. McBryde was one of my early supporters in the Church planning seminars I did and he and his wife were both tremendous influences in our lives. He, of course, was relating the choices we make to being actively engaged in kingdom activities, but I see it also applicable to many choices that we make.

When I leave Mom and Dad I’m always the one who feels blessed. They have stood by us all through the good times and the bad, and they have been a consistent testimony and example of faithfulness. Also be sure that I am not saying those in our family who can’t do what I do are wrong and I am right. Each of us have our own row to hoe, as Paw Paw Mac used to say, therefore, we all do what we can in the best way that we can. I can think of dozens of reasons why what I do would be very difficult for some others. But we all can do what we can and one of the things I highly recommend is that we all take the time to let Mom and Dad know how very special they are and how thankful we are for them, and how much we thank God for them. Whatever means we choose to do this, by card, by phone, by personal visit, or whatever, it is our privilege and it will end up being time well spent. More later……………..

Friday, July 27, 2007

Just What The Doctor Ordered!

I’ve had a few rough days of late. Just not feeling 100%, and 3:45 a.m. comes early, and I have been very busy, and running here and there, and also kind of dragging a little. What do you do in this situation? While I readily admit to being a classic slow learner in many areas, I can tell you with certainty that one of the best things for me when I’m having these kind of symptoms is to spend a little time with my grandchildren!

Since we had not seen our youngest son and his family for several weeks we set a time to meet them for supper at a barbecue restaurant that was about half way for them and us. All day long I was really looking forward to seeing our kids and especially our grandkids! If you have read my blogs any at all you already know that our little Lexie is hands down, no doubt about it, the funniest girl in the entire world. No one can be around her very long at all without laughing and having a good time. But, alas, she had gone to the beach with her cousins.

Now Kyleigh is at that stage betwixt and between. She will soon be a teenager for real but she’s been in heads down training for the past couple of years. She’s a beautiful young lady and always so courteous and gracious and respectful. That alone makes a grandparent feel better but she was also missing in action.

That left only our little Brady, or Bray Bray, as Lexie calls him. This fellow was there and he not only has character, he is a character. He used to be stuck on his Poppy like a magnet on a refrigerator but the last couple of times he wasn’t as much, so I didn’t know what to expect out of our little moving target. One thing you will not ever be able to say about Poppy is that he will not test the waters and see where he stands, right away! We arrived first and waited out on the patio of the food place. When they pulled in, Poppy went out to meet them.

There was the old Bray Bray all ready to love on his Poppy and make his blues go away. We had a wonderful time. MiMi got some time in but only a fraction because the little magnet was back and it was just what Poppy needed! Yes, he needed a fix. A grandchild fix. We had a ball. He’s a handful but he’s a jewel. It was only an hour and a half, but it was fun and theraputic. It made me lonesome to see all ten of them, at the same time, where I can swtich from one to the other and store up some of that wonderful medicine they bring. Perahps I can get MiMi to work on this, I will certainly try.

That old adage about if you had known grandchildren were so great you would have had them first doesn’t work for me. Now is when I need them! So, thank God he arranged it the way He did for He knows I need all the help I can get! Amen. More later……………..

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wishing I Could Hear His Voice!

I turned seven years old in August of 1953. Dad died January 2, 1954. It was an unbelievable experience for us all. I well remember him being carried from our apartment on a stretcher to the ambulance. I well remember the outpouring of grief and sympathy accompanying his death. There was a memorial service held in Port Arthur, Texas. His body was then transported by train to a small rural town in Louisiana where another funeral service was held and he was buried nearby in a local cemetery. I remember all of these events clearly. I can replay them in my mind. The problem I have is in remembering stuff prior to his death.

I know the psychologists say this type of blotted out or blocked memories is not unusual especially in children who experience such a earth shattering traumatic event in their life. I can pick up bits and pieces, here and there, but seven missing years? That’s always been a really tough thing for me to deal with. I know I was just a kid but I also know we lived in different places and I know I had to have been involved in lots of different things, but most of it is at best only seen in fading glimpes of shadows, along with stories I’ve adapted from hearing others share their recollections.

I’ve been bothered by this at different times and in different ways but typically always come away frustrated in not being able to get a clear picture. I have been blessed with a pretty good memory, therefore, I know the information is stored. It has to be. I considered hypnosis once but that would involve placing myself in an altered state of consciousness and I have some real issues with doing that. So I never tried this method of unlocking that part of my life.

It may not sound like a big deal to most folks because God has surely blessed me in my life with a great mom, an otherwise wonderful childhood, a good wife, three boys and their families, and wonderful friends, and too many blessings to count. Please don’t get the idea I am complaining about not being able to remember these years, just puzzled and at times somewhat frustrated in trying to grab hold of some of it. One of the things that most bothers me is that I know that I have to know more about my dad than I can get my arms around.

Not that I have lacked for information about him. Growing up, everyone who knew him told me something about him. Since he worked for a railroad company we received a railpass when he died. I used this pass quite often to travel from Louisiana to visit my cousins in Texas. In doing so, on nearly every trip I would be inundated with conductors and other train people telling how smart my dad had been and how he would have been helping run the company had he lived. Sometimes word spread that I was on the train and workers would come back from other areas just to express sympathy and tell me what a great man my dad was.

I know some of that recollection on their part was likely their way of encouraging me. But I have been told all my life that I am very much like my dad, so in some ways those comments were like compliments if I have shown any of those same characteristics. One of the things I’ve often longed for was just to hear my dad’s voice. I’ve been told to listen to myself and I will hear him speak but that’s just not the same. I am blessed to be able to have at least one conversation every day with all three of my boys. We talk about jobs, challenges, family, and other stuff that’s going on. While I will be the first to say I’ve not always been the dad I should have been, I count these conversations as a tremendous blessing that God has permitted me to enjoy, one I will have to wait until I see my dad in heaven to enjoy with him.

In doing some genealogical research on my dad’s family I have learned many new facts about him and his life. He, like us all, had his good points and some that could have been improved. Since he left at age 30 I would suppose he was a work in progress and come to think about it, at 61, I am too! The good news is that I have a wonderful stepdad and he and I can enjoy talking for hours. The other good news is that out of these sixty plus years I have many treasured blessings in the 54 years I remember well. For these things and many more I am grateful! Amen. More later……………..

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My Favorite Challenge: "It Can't Be Done!"

Coming up through the ranks I always was interested in how things could be made to be more effective, more efficient, especially on a large scale. Because of this I often found myself engaged in many battles over the years against the “status quo” and the entrenched “powers that be”. Many of the projects I pursued and many of the stands that I took were not for the fainthearted. But one of the things I learned and learned to love is that when you go after something big you get big results. Sounds simple enough but it just happens to be true.

Let me say that when you do attempt to make big change for all the right reasons this does not mean you will be appreciated, or that your motives will not be trashed from many different directions. In trying to make things better I’ve been accused of grandstanding, being contentious, or intent on personal adulation. One of my favorite examples of this came about early on in my running the networking environment. I never wanted to be first just for having it be said we were first, but often we were and it paid dividends for our program.

Having built a fairly solid reputation for hard work, integrity, and positive results, I determined to begin looking at ways to improve the overall computing processing environment for our company. We had recently installed brand new technology high speed laser printing systems in the central computing facility which allowed us to print all original copies on smaller paper getting rid of the carbons, print ribbons, and all the storage and maintenance issues that came with the large sheet paper that had been the standard for many years. This was a big deal because now everyone who needed information could read it clearly including the people who actually did the work. Before, the department managers would get the original and everyone else got copies and typically the lowest level clerk who actually used the report to code information got the last carbon which made reading it next to impossible. This change brought good results to everyone.

This got me to thinking. Why not provide this same benefit to the 50 remote locations that were dealing with the same printing issues? Then everyone would be on the same page, literally, pun intended. Well, there was a really good reason why this didn’t make sense at first. Simply stated, the company that at that time was a recognized monopoly owned all the equipment in the network and we rented from them, and they did not have a remote solution that could accomplish this. When I spoke with their team they came up with a number of exotic and costly alternatives that were laughable, therefore, since they couldn’t do it, it was best just to drop it.

Dropping it was not my idea of making progress. Why not find someone else in the technology world that could meet this requirement? I’m not sure where this approach fit on the unpardonable sin list in the monopoly company approach to account management but it was somewhere near the top. The more they resisted, it was the more I persisted. Perhaps it became a contest of wills. I began to receive subtle hints about people who had lost their jobs doing this kind of thing. A board member cautioned my boss since the monopoly company had great influence there. The senior marketing guy with the monopoly company even told me he might lose his job and his children might not go to college and his career would be ruined if he was not able to keep this from happening.

Call me stubborn, hardnosed, or just plain old doing my best to do my job, but I would not let it die. I discovered a group of young engineers who had left a huge electronics firm and formed a company that intended to specialize in the exact application I was looking for. To make a long story even longer, I chose to work with these guys, came up with a proposal to kick out the monopoly company printers, and do what was needed to make this happen.

Yes, I was young and yes, I in some ways put my life on the line. I had confidence in the people running the new company and had confidence in their equipment and capabilities, and since we were one of their first large contracts they pulled out all the stops to make it work. It was not easy and the monopoly company made it as difficult as they could in the interfacing needed to connect into our network and they also continued pressure from all quarters. My boss told me many times he sure hoped I was right. I was and we did it, and the results were tremendous.

To me it was simple. Why not? Did I leave the battlefield with scars? Sure, but I can tell you even today I am proud of doing many types of projects just like this one for the overall good of bringing the best to those who actually did the work for the company. I wasn’t always right and I had a few that got away from me, but in the end I feel really good about my response to the challenge: “It can’t be done.” More later………

He really thought he knew me!

The six years that I was privileged to oversee the computing and technology business for the big company were some of the most rewarding in terms of achievement and accomplishment. One of the perks I enjoyed most was the business club membership I inherited from my boss who took medical retirement. This membership was to the oldest and most exclusive business club in the city and I was humbled by the opportunity to eat there three or four days per week.
There were at least two other prominent business clubs in the city that catered to certain types of executives. The old club I was a part of was definitely old school. The joke used to be that one of the primary differences between the clubs was the others all had exercise equipment that worked and was actually used. I loved going there at lunch time and seeing the legends of business as they congregated each day. On any given day you could see well-known politicians, celebrity lawyers, and dozens of the most powerful business leaders in our country.

My previous boss always wanted to be a part of this scene. He wanted people to know he was there and wanted his name to be called and all that went with that. I never cared anything at all about doing that kind of thing, however, I actually think they did quite a bit more in my case since I never even thought about wanting it to be done. I did use my membership very strategically. Part of my job was to sign off on millions of dollars worth of computing, networking, and telecommunications spending. Often I would carry high profile executives from these vendor companies to the club for lunch. They could not pay at my club. I paid. I was never beholden to any of them.

Bottom line, and I say this with a great sense of accomplishment; we were able to provide the best technology at the lowest possible cost for our company. I always preferred seeing hundreds of thousands saved compared to a $50 luncheon. For me this was a no brainer but I did have my days of trying to explain this approach on my expense account since it was exactly the opposite of what every one else did.

One thing is certain, anytime you have this type of environment you will have people who are there primarily to network and make connections. Because of this there was always a lot of greeting, handshaking, and banter forth and back as people moved in and out of the main dining area. (I was actually a member when women were not allowed in certain dining areas and was there when all of that changed, what an explosive situation!) But here’s the story I wanted to tell today.

A famous lawyer from the city got into politics and eventually was elected governor of our state. This guy thought he knew me. I’m not just saying he was always greeting me but it was different. I don’t know if he thought we went to school together or what, but he always made a big deal when he saw me at the club. This, of course, made quite an impression on the people who were with me. It was uncanny. I would tell my family about how he treated me like I was his long lost brother and they would give me that, "okay, sure dad", condescending, "you are most likely exaggerating again" look.

Then it happened. We were on our way as a family to a reunion or something out of town and were in a multi-car caravan. About sixty miles outside the metroplex we all stopped for dinner. It was a catfish restaurant. We got situated with two or three tables pushed together. Guess who walks in? None other than my long lost friend, the now ex-governor, and he spots me across the room. He immediately came to our table and nearly embraced me and recognized my family, talked about how wonderful it was to see us all, and then excused himself. Everyone sat there dazed.

I didn’t have to say I told you so because on that day the authenticity of my story telling was raised to a whole new level. More later………

Monday, July 23, 2007

Extra Work I've Never Regretted!

In the fall of 1966 I found myself at times working three different jobs. During the week each day I worked in hospital administration at the VA Hospital, in the evenings and on Saturdays I worked for a Gibson’s Disccount Store, a forerunner of the Wal-Mart model, and when I could and they needed me I worked late nights for the hotel operations at the local US Air Force Base. Three jobs at the same time? Yeah, but at twenty years of age, it didn’t seem that taxing.

One of the primary reasons I worked the extra jobs was to provide for our Christmas and buy gifts for others. I know different people have different traditions about celebrating Christmas. We always reverenced the Reason for the Season but enjoyed Santa and the gift giving celebration as well. This was my tradition growing up. Growing up in a Baptist pastor’s home, my wife’s family were much more modest in their approach but she graciously adapted and adopted much of what I had practiced growing up. I know to some there’s a disconnect between honoring the Savior and doing the Santa thing as well. Each one needs to be convicted in their own heart regarding this issue and I never try to persuade anyone that my way is best.

I will never know how my Mom did what she did but somehow and in someway she was able as a widow with six children to make Christmas a blow-out experience nearly every year. I’m talking about the wake up on Christmas morning with toys under the tree already to go for each and every child. Add to that the feasting, the fellowship, the love, warmth, and joy of the season and it was something we began to anticipate months before the actual celebration. By the time Christmas day arrived the Sears Christmas Catalog was nothing but shreds because it had been thumbed through and drooled on for months.

I’ll never forget one Christmas I received a Canadian Mountie pistol set with the holster, shoulder strap, and long barrelled revolver. With this set I could be Sergeant Preston all day long and round up bandits and renegades to my heart’s content. However, my older brother and our first cousin convinced me that if I would put a firecracker in the barrell, it would make it very realistic. I did and once it exploded half of the barrell flew off and I cried for days because of my damaged favorite toy. I’m sure it was glued, taped, and tied back on but it was never the same again.

The Christmas of 1966 was memorable. I had put a number of items in lay away and then worked the extra hours to pay for it all. Our eldest had just turned one in October so you know he needed a full train set. He also needed a huge jumping horse which would put those out in front of Wal-Mart to shame. I can’t remember but I think it was several years later before he could even ride it by himself. I do remember well putting that sucker together. I was doing my best to go by the instructions which included some leather grommets that were supposed to cover the metal connecting ends. You were supposed to soak them and then sweat and slide them to their proper place. It turned out to be an all night sweat the grommet program and I carried four blisters on each hand for the next two weeks.

I was more excited, however, about a gift I had bought for my granddad. He loved to hunt and enjoyed his fried squirrell but it had gotten to where he could not see or hear that well and most of the time he came home empty handed. And let me tell you, Granny Mac could deep fry that squirell and put on a meal that was nothing short of wonderful. Therefore, I had purchased him a goose gun, a 12 gauge shotgun, bolt action, with a 36” barrell. I reasoned that with this longer gun he would have more luck hitting a squirrell high up in the trees.

I’ll never forget him opening that shotgun. He looked at it and with that gleam in his eye said, “Well son, all I need is their name and address because when I get to their tree I’ll just reach up there and knock them down”. Do I remember any of the sleep I lost during my three job stint? Do I remember how really tired I was? Nope. Occasionally when I open my closet and see that shotgun leaning in the corner I can see the look on Paw Paw Mac’s face the day he got that gun. Now that’s a memory worth keeping! More later………